I recently flew across the Pacific Ocean. It was a long flight, but the experience was made much more comfortable because I wore noise-cancelling earphones that eliminated the droning rumble of the aircraft engines. As strange as it may seem, the same concept may be able to help patients with Parkinson’s Disease. This neurological disease affects muscle control, and typically results in tremors in the hands. This shaking can make it impossible for some patients to perform simple tasks, such as feeding themselves or drinking from a glass. Solutions to the problem include coming up with ways to move the hand in the opposite direction of the tremors, thus cancelling out the movement much in the same was that noise-cancelling headphones eliminate sounds. We’ve covered smart spoons that counter the tremor movements, but what if we could help the patient’s body itself cancel out the unwanted motion?
That’s the idea behind a project by a group of students and researchers from Pakistan. They created TAME, which stands for “tremor acquisition and minimization.” The system consists of a battery-powered smart sleeve that the patient wears on an arm to reduce the tremors. An inertial motion sensor detects motion of the hand. This data is sent to a controller, where the involuntary motions are detected as separate from intentional movement. Electrodes then stimulate the appropriate muscles in the forearm to counter the tremor motions, which cancel the tremor motion.
The TAME project has won several international awards, including the recent 2017 Design Challenge “Innovating Aging in Place” by the Stanford Center on Longevity. One goal of the contest was to attract entries that provided “well-designed, practical solutions that address key issues associated with aging.” Their award for first place included a $10,000 cash prize, along with help from an expert mentor and a workshop on business plan development. If this product can be brought to market at an affordable price, it could help millions of patients worldwide.